Waking up as the rising sun fills your bedroom with warmth and light is a beautiful start to any day. Here, in the Scarlett Room in a homely villa by the sea, it prepares me for my first yoga session of the week. I never dreamed of a time when I’d be up at 7.00 on my holidays, but the prospect of joining a group of like-minded travellers and preparing myself, mentally and physically, for the day ahead is actually pretty appealing.
While I do a bit of yoga at home in London, I’m by no means an expert. Yoga ability is not an issue here. There are yoga studios dotted along the coastline offering classes that cater for every ability. It’s a blessing for me as we stick to a pace I’m comfortable with and doesn’t make me feel inadequate. That would be a rubbish holiday vibe.
The qualified teachers – Kali and Elizabeth – watch over the group with their expert eye, making sure you’re doing things that are right for you. If one morning you’re just not feeling it, you can stay in bed – there’s no expectation or pressure to do anything here.
The group –12 men and women from the UK, Italy, Germany and even as far as LA – enter in sleepy silence and take to our mats. The next two hours is a thought-through, energising and often challenging dynamic flow class. This means there is no set routine – the teachers work different parts of our bodies focussing on strength and stretch. By the end, I’m awake, focused…and starving!
credit: Gemma Hampson
I’m at a retreat run by local yoga and surf holiday leaders, Surf Maroc – the first to set up on this bit of coastline. Luckily, all my needs are taken care of, including breakfast. By the time we head downstairs, an incredible feast is waiting for us, prepared by our two in-house chefs. Fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurt, pancakes, eggs, freshly-baked bread, veg-packed smoothies…everything! It’s probably one of the most joyous and social parts of the day. But there are plenty of eating opportunities elsewhere in town, from the market stalls to the handful of cafes and restaurants nearby.
The days In Tagahzout are whatever you want them to be – packed full of action and activity, relaxing, social or solitary. Surfing is top of the agenda, and with wetsuit and board hire part of many of the inclusive deals on the coast, or pretty cheap if you’re hiring separately, you don’t really have to worry about logistics. On my retreat, two brilliant instructors – Fadl and Taoufik – are also thrown in, and I feel in safe and experienced hands.
credit: Gemma Hampson
There are loads of surf spots dotted along the coast of the Tagahzout region, all with different crags, qualities and currents. Names like Killer’s Point, Spiders and Devil’s Rock are on the map, either as a warning of some of the tougher waves or a hint of the founding surfers’ evil sense of humour! Either way, there will always be waves to suit your needs, whether you’re an experienced surfer or have never stood on a board, like me. Like me, you may be someone who never really gets to stand on a board because…surfing is hard!
You’re given time to trial and error your way towards pro-surfer status, with the instructors making sure you all get a decent amount of one-on-one tutorial too. Wait for the wave, paddle off, lift your chest, bring up your knees and jump up before cruising into the coast. Simple.
While the currents can feel like you’re walking through treacle at times, you never feel like you’re at risk. The waves can land with an almighty splash, but generally you’re never out further than waist deep.
The sea is crisp and clean and the beaches sandy with an abundance of fresh mint tea and sugary doughnut sellers. There are horses and camels to ride, rugs to buy, but not a huge number of tourists killing your tranquil vibe. If the waves change or the current becomes too much, you can easily move to a different spot.
The retreat is just one place to stay under the banner of Surf Maroc – a company set up a decade ago by surf-obsessive Ollie and his yoga-teacher wife Vicki, both from the English West Country, along with mate Ben. They now live out here permanently, raising their three boys speaking English, French and Arabic.
For those with a little more surf experience, you can join an advanced group from Surf Maroc’s more surf-heavy accommodation or go independent. There are chilled hostels sitting beach side next to pretty blue fishing boats and shops selling bright pottery, family-friendly apartments, or new swanky high-end shacks right by the water.
Our accommodation, Villa Mandala, is a few minutes’ car ride from Tagahzout to Aourir. It’s a tranquil little hub of houses next to a bustling weekly souk, once visited by Jimi Hendrix. He never mastered the Berber accent and named it Banana Village, as it’s still known locally today.
There’s a different feel at a retreat than a normal holiday. Here, we yoga, surf and dine together every day, which scraps that awkwardness or loneliness you often feel as a solo traveller. We hang out by the pool or on the huge sofas in the lounge, surrounded by books and paintings. It’s a home, not a hostel.
Evening is a special time at the retreat. On return from a day’s surf, there’s just enough time for a sun bathe and slice of cake – a fresh one made for us every day – before our second yoga session.
This is the yin to the day’s yang. It’s restorative, so works on the areas of the body you may have exerted on the board – stretching out the shoulders and hips, focusing on the spine, lower back, and neck. It teaches breathing techniques to help improve your postures, but also to relax your mind. We try different ways of meditating, from calm sitting to shaking and dancing, all with the purpose of letting go any tensions or frustrations and giving our bodies the love they deserve after a day’s activity. Dancing with your eyes closed in a room full of strangers is, quite plainly, weird, but the week is about trying new things and forgetting about your life behind a desk. It’s worth just trying everything.
It’s after yin that a little magic happens in the group. It definitely brings us closer. You talk and laugh with each other, share stories and plans for the future. It’s here you make friends for life.
And what better way to hang out with mates than over an incredible dinner. Every night at the retreat, we’re faced with a feast of the freshest salads and vegetarian delights. It’s so delicious, you don’t even think about missing the meat. There’s curry, beetroot fritters, lentil pie, falafel, beans, pules, leaves, nuts, chocolate tart, lemon sorbet. Every mouthful is gorgeous and, when you think of the cost of eating out on your average holiday, your three (you get a packed lunch too) super healthy meals a day are exceptional value for money.
But surfing, yoga and eating aren’t the only activities on offer. For a few quid here and there, you can go dune quad-biking or take trips into the neighbouring cities of Agadir, Essaouira or even Marrakech, which takes about three hours by taxi. For a change of scenery, you can visit the serene Paradise Valley and jump from rocks into the natural pools, filled with silvery fish, and stop off en route to meet a women’s co-op preparing and selling argan oil and butter. If rest and relaxation is your priority, there’s an excellent local Hamm am, where you are bathed and scrubbed the traditional Moroccan way. Yes, you’ll have to get your bits out, but the joy and silkiness is worth it. The full-body massage by these ladies and their healing hands might just be the best I’ve ever had.
credit: Gemma Hampson
After a week, I feel relaxed, fit, healthy and sun-kissed. It may have been the perfect way to escape from a cold and rainy London. In just three hours you’re in 26 degree sunshine with a group of new best mates, trying out new activities and with your own personal chefs. What more could you want from a holiday?
- Prices to stay at Villa Mandala start from £700 a week, although there are often discount offers. Costs include breakfast, lunch, dinner, cake and unlimited tea and coffee. It also includes two daily yoga sessions, surf board and wetsuit hire, surf lessons, transfers from Agadir airport and car/van transport around the area. Flights not included, but these can be as little as £100.
- Prices at Surf Maroc’s other sites start from £250 per week.
One perfect day at Villa Mandala
– 7.30am: out of bed and into a calm and beautiful yoga studio for two-hours of dynamic flow.
– 10am: hearty and healthy breakfast full of fresh fruit, veg, eggs and bread.
– 11am: head off to a surf spot picked by your expert instructors, who are also equipped with a delicious healthy packed lunch.
– 2pm had enough of the surf today? Head off for a traditional scrub and massage at the local Hamm am.
– 5pm: head home for a slice of cake before taking to the mat for some restorative yoga and meditation.
– 7pm: an array of post-yoga healthy dips are laid out for you.
8pm: sit down for two courses of veg-packed delicious dinner with your villa mates.
9.30pm: Head into town, relax on the sofa, or like most of us…head to bed. This much relaxation is exhausting!
Try out some of these other local activities:
* Take a trip to the natural pools of Paradise Valley
* Need more action? Try dune quad biking, camel treks or horse riding
* Buy some family gifts in the souk of Agadir or travel 170km to the hippie city of Essaouira, loved by Hendrix and Cat Stevens.
* Spend a night before or after your retreat in Marrakech – just three hours from Tagahzout. Experience the craziness of the souk with cobras in trances and henna-painting ladies. Eat traditional food at the many stalls and watch the sunset from a terrace with a cup of sweet mint tea.
What’s the deal with Morocco?
Morocco is in north Africa, just a three-hour flight from London.
The capital is Rabat and the largest city Casablanca.
Morocco is a mainly Muslim country, so boozing isn’t the hobby it is in the UK. You are, however, welcome to drink alcohol at Surf Maroc.
The main languages Arabic, Berber and French.
Its climate is similar to California – green, lush and mountainous in the north, dry deserts in the south.
There is a king and a Prime Minister. Every shop must hold a picture of the king.
Football is the country’s most popular sport.
Beef and couscous, cooked in a Tagine, is the most common food.